Almost a year after it was revealed that
Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt was exploring a move to Austin, it looks like the MLS team might stay in Columbus after all.
MLS confirmed that the Haslam family -- owners of the NFL's Cleveland Browns -- and the Columbus-based Edwards family were in negotiations with MLS to buy the Crew and "significant" progress had been made.
Since last year, Precourt Sports Ventures secured an agreement with the city of Austin on a site for a stadium at McKalla Place on 24 acres of city-owned land in North Austin, its third choice and last option for the site of a soccer stadium that will cost $200 million.
PSV has moved so far along that it has a name for the team: Austin FC. The catch: a new stadium won't be ready before 2021, leaving the status of the team’s home for 2019 and 2020 up in the air.
But Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine -- the Republican candidate for Ohio governor -- sued PSV and MLS in the Court of Common Pleas in Ohio's Franklin County, seeking enforcement of a statute -- the so-called Modell Law -- requiring teams using tax-supported facilities to give notice -- six months -- and local investors a chance to buy the team. Just what constitutes notice and how negotiations take place have been among the issues the court has been grappling with.
MLS's position has been that it is reluctant to move the Crew, but any long-term situation in Columbus would require a better stadium situation than there is there now -- Mapfre Stadium, opened in 1999, is the oldest MLS soccer-specific stadium -- and significantly greater local corporate support.
MLS statement on Columbus:
“Major League Soccer and the Columbus Partnership have been working together for several months on a plan to keep Crew SC in Columbus and we have made significant progress. Recently, the Haslam Family – along with the Columbus-based Edwards Family, have joined the effort to keep Crew SC in Columbus.
MLS, the Columbus Partnership and the investor group all agree that for the club to be successful in Columbus, it requires strong local partners, long-term corporate support, a strong season ticket base and long-term plans for a stadium, practice facilities and associated sites.
MLS is committed to keeping Crew SC in Columbus should we continue to make progress on these critical components and agree to key terms with the investor group.
MLS recognizes the cooperation Precourt Sports Ventures has demonstrated throughout the process to date.
MLS also remains very committed to PSV’s plan to launch an MLS club in Austin and is excited for Austin to become a great addition to MLS. We will continue to work with PSV and the City of Austin on the timing around the launch of Austin FC.”
Statement from Columbus Partnership, Jimmy Haslam and Dr. Pete Edwards:
“We are excited to jointly announce that the Columbus Partnership along with a local investor group led by Pete Edwards, Jr. and Dee and Jimmy Haslam have formed an alliance to continue the collaboration with Major League Soccer to keep the Crew in Columbus.
We are optimistic about our recent conversations with MLS regarding the potential sale of the operating rights of the Columbus Crew.
While there are many details to be worked out, our alliance is working diligently and collaboratively with the League to keep the Crew in its community. We are very excited about the quiet but deliberate progress that has been made to date and will keep the community updated as this process moves forward.”
Statement from Alex Fischer, President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership:
“I am energized by the willingness of MLS to collaborate with us over the past several months. I appreciate Commissioner Garber’s personal involvement with the Columbus Partnership, the Haslams and the Edwards. Having community-oriented owners ready to purchase the team is a significant step forward in achieving our goal to keep Crew SC in Columbus.”
"While there are many details to be worked out, our alliance is working diligently and collaboratively with [MLS] to keep the Crew in its community. We are very excited about the quiet but deliberate progress that has been made to date and will keep the community updated as this process moves forward."
Statement from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine:
“Today is a great day for Crew fans, and this is outstanding news for all of Columbus!
“I am proud of the work our legal team has done in ensuring Ohio’s laws are followed and the door has been kept open to productive negotiations. Our community has invested in this team and deserves the opportunity to keep the black and gold right here, where they belong. I appreciate the efforts of the Haslam and Edwards families, and the Columbus Partnership for their work, and I will continue pursuing the case in court until there is a final deal.
“Columbus’s long history as the home of U.S. soccer continues. Central Ohio is not only home to the country’s first professional soccer team and the first soccer-specific stadium; it is also home to the fans that #SavedTheCrew. The dedication, loyalty, and heart of fans shows that the Crew SC community is truly 'America’s hardest working team.'
“I look forward to watching a future match of Crew SC and FC Cincinnati!”
MLS statement on Austin:
“Major League Soccer is excited to move forward in Austin with Precourt Sports Ventures and their vision for Austin FC. Regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for PSV to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club.
The strong support from Austin’s corporate community, government officials and passionate soccer fans is impressive. Austin is a flourishing, dynamic city that presents a great opportunity for MLS, and we look forward to finalizing plans to become the first major league team in the capital of Texas.
While timing for Austin FC is still to be finalized, we are confident that the team will begin play no later than 2021 at the new, privately financed stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place. We applaud the Austin community, city leaders and Precourt Sports Ventures for their commitment to making this happen.”
Precourt Sports Ventures statement on Austin:
"With the recent news of a possible investor group stepping into Columbus, Austin FC is on the verge of becoming the first major league sports franchise in the history of Austin.
"PSV has made remarkable progress in Austin, and when the definitive agreement with the City of Austin is finalized, MLS in Austin will be a reality. Regardless of the possibility of any bona fide investor group in Columbus closing on a transaction to assume operating rights to Columbus Crew SC, Austin FC will be playing MLS matches in the Texas state capital in the near future. The club will likely begin playing at a date no later than the spring 2021 opening of the new, privately-financed stadium and soccer park at McKalla Place.
"Although the process is not yet final in Austin, a successful outcome is within reach and PSV remains grateful for the patience and support of all involved.
"The strength and resiliency of Austin supporters and elected officials have helped create a successful foundation for Austin FC to be a proud community platform, and PSV is incredibly excited for what lies ahead."